What do Changi in Singapore, John Lennon in Liverpool and Dubai have in common? They’re airports driven by branding. And that’s given these world-class airports a flying start.

Times of India:  And our airports? Nowhere close to them with their simple, basic structures meant for planes to simply land and take-off. But all that is set to change. Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA), being privatized by Mumbai International Airport Pvt Ltd (MIAL), will be the first private airport in India to brand itself and vie with others for a slice of passenger loyalty and footfalls.

In fact, the concept of airport branding is still a nascent phenomenon, barely 20 years old. But as airports get privatized and competition heats up, branding, like that of consumer products and celebs, will help them carve a niche of their own. So, if you are struck by a yellow submarine or a seven-foot statue of the most famous Beatle at John Lennon airport, attribute it to branding at its best! And those beautiful orchids at Changi are also branding working quietly and insidiously to seduce the passenger with a far-eastern touch.

TWIN APPROACHES: "Airport branding has two aspects," says Robbie Gill, head of The Design Solution, a top-notch London firm of architects and designers which has done 30-40 airport projects globally. "The first is that of the airport itself, which is a gateway to the city. The branding should reflect a certain culture. The other is commercial branding, including retail and entertainment. Quality, value and choice are the three main mantras here. There are airports in the US, for example, which rip you off. But Changi is markedly different; if there’s a difference in prices here and downtown, it offers to refund twice that amount. Even BAA airports (Heathrow, Gatwick), will refund your money within three months if you don’t like an item bought there."

Branding can start even before one enters the airport through billboards, events, etc. Once inside the airport, interiors, colors and fragrances, can be vehicles for this branding. Some UK airports brand themselves on shuttle buses of different airlines with messages emblazoned on the backs of seats. Some do so with loyalty cards which reward passengers traveling regularly through them. Shanghai has even produced a hard book on its airport brand.

‘‘Geographically,’’ says Manish Kalghatgi, GM, corporate communications, MIAL, ‘‘India, on its eastern side, has airports such as Changi and Hong Kong, while on the western side, has Dubai, Heathrow, etc. We now have to compete with these airports and branding helps us leverage ourseves.’’

PHYSICAL IDENTITY: One of the first things MIAL did to brand itself was get a physical identity, a logo. It’s the first airport in India to have one. It’s in the shape of a peacock feather with CSIA woven into it. ‘‘We wanted an Indian theme and peacock feathers encapsulate pride in India, people and service and global standards. It’s also a reflection of Mumbai, India’s financial capital and a vibrant, colorful city with Bollywood adding to its heritage,’’ says Sanjay Reddy, MD, MIAL.

It’ll be a visual rampage. "The logo will be on signage, shopping bags, trolleys, murals and even near water bodies," says Sujata Keshavan of Ray and Keshavan, the firm which did MIAL’s branding. Even the architecture of the airport will enhance this branding, she says. ‘‘The airport’s roof (see pix) will look like a peacock feather.’’

And that’s precisely what India’s first private international airport, Cochin International Airport Ltd, (CIAL), did. "CIAL’s brand is its architecture," says V J Kurien, its MD for 10 years and quite a brand himself. "Instead of going in for the usual soap-box architecture of most airports, we used local, temple architecture to give it a distinct, aesthetic feel."

And Delhi’s IGI Airport? Arun Arora, AVP, corporate communications, GMR-DIAL, which is redoing IGIA, says, "We’ll be working on it. We’ve not decided on the theme yet." An aviation expert, however, says, "DIAL would need to give a structured branding to IGIA before the Commonwealth Games in 2010, and the sooner it’s done, the better."

BEING IN SYNC: Once the new terminal comes up, says Reddy, there’ll be a brand manual and all shops inside, be it a Gucci, Stop & Go or Crossword Bookstore, will have to be in sync with it. But once the passenger enters a shop, individual branding will take over.

It has to. Branding is all about business, after all. Globally, 50% of travelers spend nothing at terminals. "Making an airport attractive as a brand will garner it income from two sources: aviation income (cargo, passenger charges, etc) and non-aeronautical revenue (retail outlets, hotels, advertisements and parking slots)," says Gill.

With MIAL targeting 55% of its revenue from the latter, branding is the answer to grabbing the maximum number of eyeballs in Maximum City. Reddy hopes footfalls will shoot up from the present 20 million to 40 million by 2012-14 when the airport will be done.

But branding also has to go hand-in-hand with infrastructure development. Though new taxiways, more check-in counters and faster immigration have been added, CSIA is constrained by lack of space (2,000 acres of which 274 are encroached) unlike Delhi (5,000 acres). CSIA is believed to be one of the most challenging airport projects globally. So the airport should get ship-shape in tandem with its branding. After all, it takes two to tango for a world-class dream!

Via Times of India